In past generations, if 14 to 18 year-old baseball players wanted to continue playing in the summer after the school season ended, it was tryout time with hopes of qualifying for the local American Legion post roster.
Make the team and play upwards of 40 games before high school or college resumed for the fall.
Teams are made up of the best the local high schools have to offer, even college freshmen under the age of 19 can suit up for one last season.
However, over the last ten years, the American Legion leagues have lost nearly a quarter of all teams and in some states over three-quarters of the teams are gone (source).
Why is this the case?
Travel vs Legion Baseball
The travel or as some call them, the “showcase” teams have taken over.
Many travel teams are run by local high school coaches, whose teams get considerably more attention from college recruiters and professional scouts.
Therefore, the competition is clearly the cream of the crop. At times, this means players focusing more on their own skill improvement to get attention of those in attendance. This means the art of moving the runner over with a sacrifice bunt may become a lost art.
Instead of a regular schedule throughout the week as in American Legion baseball, travel teams participate in weekend tournaments. With many of the best players heading to travel teams, American Legion is struggling to keep the better players on rosters, which is good for those borderline players to make a roster, but worse for overall quality of the league.
Some players wish to play against their local competition and friends from other high schools, so Legion ball is a preference.
At the same time, they may wish to showcase their talents on weekends on a travel team. Therein creates a problem since there is little time to do both.
Level of competition
As little as 20 years ago, if a freshman in high school made a Legion squad, it was an amazing feat.
Now, partially due to increased ability of players, the upper-class high school and college freshman opt for the travel teams.
Generally, those players that aren’t committed to a college program or clearly won’t be playing at the next level will choose American Legion over travel teams.
Younger players that in the past wouldn’t consider trying out for a Legion team will be filling rosters, making the organization at a crossroads in terms of putting quality product on the field, jeopardizing its future. (Source)
Cost of playing Travel vs Legion Baseball
Next let us consider the costs involved with both legion and travel baseball.
When it comes to travel baseball, parents are shelling a large amount of money.
Registration fees for tournaments are very high; the parents also need to pay the high transportation cost as well as the rent for accommodation at costly hotels.
Whereas the costs involved with Legion baseball is minimal.
Finally when the players join college they usually find that there are players from legion baseball who have not spent a lot of money to get there. So parents need to consider whether they spent money wisely.
Know the pros and cons of your local Travel Ball teams
Travel teams need to be evaluated on a team-by-team basis. There is such a wide variety of coaching philosophies and team cultures to be found.
However, some of the broad criticism includes:
1 — Beware of marketing
The many tournaments that travel baseball teams play at are named grandiosely like National Championship. What one needs to consider is whether it is really a National championship or just a private competition where many teams from far and wide come and play.
2 — Too little emphasis on player development
Ask around… does the team actually have practices a couple times a week? Or do they only meet to play games? Does the coach care about developing his players?
3 — To much emphasis on winning
Here’s a quote from Larry Owens, Head Baseball Coach at Bellarmine University
“It is important to win, but not at the expense of opportunities to develop players and the game losing kids because of disinterest.
Coaches that call every pitch, pigeon hole kids to certain positions at too early of an age, never let the kids make decisions running the bases and positioning players every hitter, stunt player development.
Kids will never learn and develop unless they are allowed to make mistakes.
Their knowledge of the game and how it is played will not be enhanced if they only play one position the entire year.
Far too often, these times are not used as learning opportunities because the focus is on winning is too great. We need to encourage travel team coaches to take the time to teach in these situations.” (source)
Earlier people used to see the baseball standings and squad and know for which league team each player played, but now we cannot say so because many travel teams disappear after a few years, this is one major drawback of travel baseball teams.
However, legion teams have been around for decades and are expected to churn out players for decades more.
To sum it up, travel leagues have given players an option other than Legion for summertime baseball.
The future of the American Legion baseball, founded in 1925, is in jeopardy, but not all is lost because there are many people who still believe in the Legions and are prepared to send their children there.
Travel vs Legion Baseball – BOTTOM LINE
If you’re trying to decide Legion and Travel ball for yourself, it’s more important to consider…
- The specific teams in YOUR area (coaching and team culture vary wildly from city to city)
- Your own priorities and goals
…rather than somebody’s internet opinion of Travel baseball or American Legions Baseball.
In some towns, Legion is still competitive.
In others, there may be a better opportunity with a travel team… IF the coach is going to make the development of your player his highest priority, or if you are willing to find other avenues of development, such as private coaching or programs like this online training from Major League baseball players.